Written by By Dana Tinasewich, CNN
This is the horrific story of an inmate at a maximum security jail in Kentucky whose family doesn’t receive a piece of his hair for a month and who is forbidden from communicating with them for a year — even from a hospital.
The inmate, Christopher Woodward, was sent to Sing Sing from a facility in Florida by a US federal judge to serve a 10-year sentence for violating federal sentencing guidelines.
The sentence was prescribed by an appellate court in Washington, DC, in 2004, and the 31-year-old was convicted of manufacturing, intending to distribute and possessing over five pounds of methamphetamine.
He was transferred to Lexington, Kentucky, at the same time as Anthony Ray Briscoe, who was convicted of the murder of a man. The two, along with nine other inmates, were transferred to Kentucky in 2003 for the same crime, the Independent said. Briscoe’s sentence was served concurrently with Woodward’s.
For prisoners, the threat of indefinite detention lingers. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Demotix/Corbis
Woodward and Briscoe — who is serving a life sentence — have long since been paroled. But the safety net is not enough to secure healthcare for prisoners.
In 2009, prisoners were given the right to receive regular visits from their families under the Family Visitation Act. This was aimed at allowing families to see sick or injured loved ones and maintain a connection after they’ve been released. (While it’s not mandated, most state-run prisons provide family visits at the federal level.)
But the act fails to protect inmates from arbitrary acts of arbitrary detention by family members and friends who want to visit, the Independent said.
Woodward refused to take drugs without the approval of his counsellor and was determined to have been suicidal when he went off his medication. The family of another inmate who has died in prison have sought to have the drug rule reconsidered but could not because judges have largely refused to reconsider what’s known as the “bright line” rule on the books.
Sister’s plea to end ‘inhumane’ suffering
The family of Woody Allen Keadle Jr., whose parents died of cancer, recently received letters from a psychiatrist telling them their efforts to visit their brother were in vain because of the social media requirement. Since the letters violated the restrictions, the doctor did not offer to provide them with the requested health care information — including such issues as the cancer diagnoses, such as in Allen Keadle Jr’s case.
Allen Keadle Jr. said he was denied his right to a healthcare plan during visits to the jail in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Photograph: Dan Corry/Boston Globe/Getty Images
Allen Keadle Jr. said the process was “inhumane.” The family was given the opportunity to question the social worker who appointed him his own patient advocate but by the time Keadle Jr. met the social worker in a corridor, the session was over.
‘These people deserve better.’
The Kentucky ACLU brought a class action lawsuit against the Kentucky state department of corrections for the restriction on visits.
The group said the specific restrictions that caused “unnecessary suffering” and required family members “to return to a jail each week to discuss an incarcerated loved one with a social worker who, at most, will bring him a newspaper and a toiletry kit.”
The case has not yet been decided.
A spokesperson for the Kentucky state Department of Corrections said the department only sought to provide inmates with a “finite amount of media.” He said a brief visit with family members and health care is “a condition of release.”
For Ashley Eddings, the director of the Kentucky ACLU, family visitation has become less of a right and more of a privilege. “These people deserve better,” she said.
One of the big questions in both Woodlawn and the state of Kentucky’s lawsuit is whether a two-week visit can be considered as a meaningful and regular family visit, even for inmates.
“The prison system is trying to find ways to restrict how many people are able to visit an inmate,” the legal principle behind the visit is a right of the family member as well as the inmate, said one leading criminal defense attorney. “Not to every family member, just to certain family members, and to certain who are eligible for release.”
She declined to be named or discuss cases publicly.